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I Smile Back - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
I Smile Back
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

I Smile Back, in spite of its odd and arguably misleading title, does not qualify as entertainment. At best, it's a fascinating detour for hardcore Sarah Silverman fans, who might appreciate her supremely convincing dramatic performance as a woman so depressed she uses drugs and alcohol to numb her pain. Perhaps her character, Laney, represents someone unusually relatable for actual people suffering in the same way. I wouldn't know for certain since I don't get depressed.

This is the opposite of an uplifting movie. I Smile Back is a portrait of a woman whose mental state just gets worse. There is no note of hope in the end. I think people should know this. For what it is, it's very well done. Solid performances all around, even the two kids: Shayne Coleman as Janey and particularly Skylar Gaertner as Eli, who is beginning to exhibit tics that make Laney worry about the genes she's passed down to him.

Laney goes to rehab. During a period of sobriety she confesses that her terrible behaviors are motivated by fear. She loves her husband, Bruce (Josh Charles), and her children too much and is terrified of losing them. She is resentful when Bruce brings home a dog for the kids, because she knows the dog will die eventually and the children will be heartbroken. Actually she will be heartbroken.

Giving Laney self-described "daddy issues" is perhaps a tad obvious. The oddest scene in the movie is when she accompanies Bruce upstate to a work conference and there she drops in on the father she hasn't seen in thirty years. She learns for the first time about her mother's own drug problems from when she was a kid. The whole exchange with her father is pointedly awkward, and then, predictably, Laney begins to spiral again.

These are compelling characters, and Laney especially so, but the experience of I Smile Back is something more akin to a case study than what most people are going for when they go to the movies. It calls to mind the prevalence of mental health problems, which people don't talk about the way they should, but no one in this movie talks about that specifically. Laney just is. Bruce attempts to help her, until he can't anymore. And the audience just watches her deteriorate.

It gets pretty grim. Laney goes to some weird, dark places. During her sober period, she attempts to confess to Bruce "some pretty fucked up shit" she did "when I wasn't thinking straight." She finds the perfect way to describe it. But Bruce opts for willful ignorance, and refuses to listen, using the children as a distraction instead.

It's hard to decide how one feels about a movie like I Smile Back. It's clearly put together by talented people, and it has a unique blend of visual and sound editing, with one staying in the present and the other flashing back, that well reflects Laney's experience of her world. It's likely the subject matter itself that contributes to the fairly mixed reviews. My thoughts about it are mixed for the same reason. I'm not at all sorry I saw this movie, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone else.

Sarah Silverman and Josh Charles deal with depression and addiction in I SMILE BACK.

Overall: B
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